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Action Verbs for Resume Writing

Employers hire people who can do things for them. Your resume should be written to clearly communicate the message that you possess valuable skills, not that you have simply existed for the past 21 years. One way to do this is to include action verbs that describe what you have accomplished (e.g., "I designed and administered a student satisfaction survey, analyzed the results with a microcomputer statistics program, and presented my findings at an undergraduate research conference). The following list of verbs (modified from Lock, 1988) is a good place to start your search for strong words to describe what you have accomplished.

Adapted Designed Investigated Protected
Advised Developed Judged Questioned
Administered Diagnosed Learned Read
Analyzed Directed Lectured Reasoned
Applied Discovered Led Recommended
Approved Displayed Listened Reconciled
Arranged Drew Located Recorded
Assembled Edited Maintained Recruited
Assessed Encouraged Managed Reduced
Assisted Estimated Measured Reinforced
Balanced Established Mediated Reorganized
Budgeted Evaluated Memorized Repaired
Classified Expedited Mentored Reported
Clarified Followed Monitored Researched
Coached Forged Motivate Restored
Collected Formulated Negotiated Retrieved
Coordinated Founded Nurtured Revised
Communicated Gathered Observed Reviewed
Compared Generated Operated Scheduled
Compiled Guided Organized Shaped

Most graduate programs and potential employers require a minimum of three letters of recommendation as part of their application process. Many provide applicants with forms for recommenders to complete, although a few simply request letters. Choosing those who will recommend you is a crucial process that you should base on the following criteria.

How well do they know you? Almost every recommendation form begins by asking how long and in what capacity the recommender has known the applicant. You will want to choose recommenders who have known you for at least two years and from whom you have taken several classes or worked with on research or departmental projects. Admissions committees and personnel directors are not impressed with recommendations from persons who do not know you well. They make the assumption that either you have done nothing to allow your teachers/adviser to know you well or that those who know you well do not think highly enough of you to write you a letter of recommendation. Do not allow them to make these assumptions about you!

How positively can they recommend you? Do not simply ask faculty members if they will write you letters of recommendation. Ask them if they will write strong letters of recommendation for you. A mediocre letter of recommendation is a death sentence to job or graduate school application. You may have good grades, strong GRE scores, and a creative personal statement, but if one of your carefully selected recommenders writes a letter that paints a weak picture of your potential for success, no graduate school or potential employer will want to take a chance on you. Work hard to give faculty reasons to write you strong letters; then do everything in your power to help them do just that.

How impressed will a graduate admissions committee or potential employer be with your recommenders? Do not ask for letters of recommendation from your family members, high school counselor, physician, or priest/minister/rabbi. They may be able to describe many of your strong personal qualities (e.g., loving, concerned, healthy, and devout), but these qualities are not those about which a graduate admissions committee or potential employer is primarily concerned. Graduate faculty are evaluated by the quality and quantity of their research publications and employers' success is measured by their productivity; they will be looking for students who will help them in their efforts to achieve success. Choose recommenders with whom you have been involved in research, who have instructed research-oriented courses you have taken (e.g., Statistics, Experimental Psychology, and Directed Research), or who can vouch for your initiative, persistence, and creativity. These are the people who can write positively about what you have done or about your potential as a successful future scholar/researcher or employee.

A standard recommendation form is included in this chapter for students contemplating graduate school. Study it carefully to discover the knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics that your recommenders will use to evaluate you; it is never too early to begin to develop them. Many students wait until they are seniors before they begin to think about letters of recommendation and, when they discover that they do not possess the necessary qualities, they bemoan the fact that "nobody ever told me these things would be important!" Do not let this happen to you!

You may wish to compare the information requested on the graduate school recommendation form with the example of the completed "Information for Letters of Recommendation and Resumes" section of the microcomputer advising program contained in this chapter. You will be making great progress towards receiving strong letters of recommendation if you familiarize yourself with this program, do things that will allow you to fill it with impressive information, and up-date it every semester.

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